PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 30: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on December 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

The past eight months have been a wild ride for Antonio Brown. From outbursts and big game performances to social media wars and a trade with a new contract, Brown has dominated NFL headlines. Recently, however, those headlines have not been good for Brown. The explosive tweets that helped force his way out of Pittsburgh haven’t stopped. He has taken aim at former teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster. It begs the question, why is Brown doing this? What is Antonio Brown thinking?

Why Is Antonio Brown Still Talking About the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Feeling Underappreciated

When Brown first started to make rumblings that he was unhappy, he was lashing out at a former Steelers employee on Twitter. The former employee implied that Brown’s success was related to the fact he had Ben Roethlisberger throwing to him his entire career. The former employee went further in saying that Brown should be grateful for the situation he has had since he was drafted. Brown’s response was swift and forceful; trade me and find out.

That would have been alarming enough, but it’s more concerning that Brown sought out that tweet and replied to it. The tweet didn’t address to him directly. The tweet didn’t tag him in any way. Brown went out of his way to post a copy of the original tweet and his reply. Now, there is no problem with a guy defending himself from what he feels is a slight to his ability. But the manner he did go about it, especially following a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that included a sideline eruption by Brown, was concerning.

Feeling Like a Scapegoat

When Pittsburgh traveled to face the Denver Broncos, things began to spiral out of control. The Steelers would go on to lose to the Broncos as Big Ben threw a game-sealing interception to Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris. Roethlisberger would later say that Brown didn’t run his route flat enough. Ben followed up saying he would have rather thrown the ball to JuJu four straight times. In retrospect, that was the beginning of the end of Brown and Ben’s relationship. To Brown, this was the latest in a line of slights from Ben. Being called a distraction, told his route running isn’t good enough, and watching praise go to the team’s number two receiver. For Brown, he was tired of being a scapegoat and not getting enough respect.

JuJu Smith-Schuster Overshadowing Antonio Brown

Since joining the Steelers as their second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Smith-Schuster has been an immensely popular player among fans. His hard work and infectious smile has endeared him to many. As his popularity among fans and teammates began to grow, it steadily began to eat away at Brown. Smith-Schuster joined Brown in one of his sponsorship ads. JuJu began getting more and more receptions from Roethlisberger, thus eating into Brown’s production.

Both Brown and Smith-Schuster had great 2018 seasons. Brown finished his NFL record sixth straight season with 100 catches and had over 1,000 yards receiving for the seventh time in eight seasons. Brown also had a league-leading and career-high of 15 touchdowns. Not to be out done, Smith-Schuster also had over 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in just his second season. In fact, Smith-Schuster led the team in catches and yards over Brown. As a result of his growth and contribution, his teammates voted him team MVP for the season. That was Brown’s breaking point with JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Postseason Fallout

After Brown failed to show for the Steelers’ final regular season game, the relationship between player and team went off the rails. Reports surfaced about a dust up between Brown and Roethlisberger in practice leading up to the final game of the season. Reports soon followed that Brown wanted out of Pittsburgh. On social media, Brown didn’t do anything to quiet the noise. He would call out reporters that questioned his ability or his actions. Brown posted cryptic tweets about the team and let fans and detractors debate their meaning. The chaos was a growing inferno and Brown was fanning the flames.

As the off-season continued, Brown’s proclamations about Roethlisberger or the lack of respect from team officials only grew louder. Brown discussed his situation during interviews with ESPN and HBO, outlining the lack of respect he felt and issues with Roethlisberger and Tomlin. He even went to Twitter to thank the fans for their support over the past nine years in what sounded very much like a farewell. A farewell that was still a month before the team agreed to pursue a trade for Brown.

In mid-February Brown finally sat down with Steelers management to hash out what went wrong this season. At the conclusion of that meeting, it was decided that Brown would be allowed to leave. As the Steelers pursued a trade, Brown went around marketing himself like a free agent. He stated he wanted to rework his current deal to include more guaranteed money. He wouldn’t go to a team that had bad camaraderie or energy. His outbursts and demands warded off possible suitors. Brown was driving his value down to make it harder for the Steelers to deal him and instead release him. For Brown, it was about control over his money and future.

Antonio Brown Gets His Trade But Keeps on Talking

On March 10th, Brown was traded to the Oakland Raiders. Pittsburgh received less compensation than they were hoping for and Brown got a new deal. It seemed as though both sides could move on after a messy breakup. That has not been the case, however. Just recently Brown took a big shot at Smith-Schuster.

Brown was referencing Smith-Schuster’s fumble that sealed the Steelers loss to the New Orleans Saints late in the season. After the fumble, JuJu was visibly upset and took responsibility for the loss. Brown then took it a step further by sharing a personal message JuJu had sent to him four years earlier when JuJu was still in college.

Brown’s actions have gone from bizarre to disturbing and petty. Unable to accept that he’s not as universally loved as he used to be, Brown took to trying to tear down Smith-Schuster. Someone who looked up to Brown and supported him through this mess of an off-season didn’t deserve that kind of treatment. To his credit, JuJu responded in probably the nicest way one could expect after that.

Conclusion

It is really hard to pinpoint exactly what Antonio Brown is thinking. In the beginning, it was easy to explain his behavior as a disgruntled player who wanted more respect. As the season wore on and the antics just got louder and louder, it became harder to tolerate. After the season, it was clear the Brown’s mindset was to get himself traded. While many didn’t agree with his methods, it was at least easy to come to that conclusion. Once Brown got what he wanted, it was all expected to go away.

When Brown started taking shots at JuJu after the trade, no one could really figure out why he was doing it. Is it an ego thing? It could be. Brown had a great season and no one is denying that. Yet, Smith-Schuster had a statistically better year and made a big leap from his rookie year. Why wouldn’t his teammates reward him by naming him their MVP. That was just unfathomable to Brown. Then for Brown to release that personal message sent to him by a young JuJu just makes Brown look small and petty. There is no need to do something like that. That act alone has drawn the ire of many fans and media personalities alike. Everyone has asked the same question, what is Antonio Brown thinking? It’s not an easy answer to find.

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